MustReadClassicsBookshelfIt hap­pens to the best of us.  As copy­writ­ers, mar­keters, and entre­pre­neurs we get way­laid by our own best inten­tions, by our efforts at learn­ing more about our craft, keep­ing up with all the must-read posts, mag­a­zine arti­cles, and busi­ness books, and so on.

The end result: a read­ing diet way too rich on mediocre prose and way too low on first-rate fic­tion and poetry. Think about the last 10 books you’ve read and tell me that’s not the case.

And, in gen­eral, as you read, so shall you write. Garbage In, Garbage Out. So here’s my vitamin-enhanced fiction-reading com­mit­ment for next year:

  • one short story, OR
  • one chap­ter from a novel, OR
  • At least one poem, OR
  • A chap­ter from the Bible, OR
  • One first-rate play or screenplay

I’ll read at least that much fic­tion each day, every day.

As far as New Year’s res­o­lu­tions go, I think this one is prob­a­bly one of the most pleas­ant I’ve ever made, and will very likely turn out to be one of the most effec­tively life-improving as well. I hereby rec­om­mend it to you.

Any­one else make a writing-specific res­o­lu­tion this New Year’s?


  1. Daphne Gray-Grant on 01.01.2010

    I agree that good read­ing is essen­tial to good writ­ing. I usu­ally read at least a book a week (less dur­ing super busy times of work, much more dur­ing hol­i­days) and I find it keeps me going — and sus­tains my writ­ing. I’ve inter­mit­tently kept a book “jour­nal” over the years, record­ing what I’ve read and scrib­bling some notes about it. My new year’s res­o­lu­tion is to do that more faithfully!

  2. Ken Brand on 01.01.2010

    Happy New Year Jeff,

    I wanted to share with you that I enjoy and BENEFIT immensely from your shared thoughts on writ­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, per­sua­sion, etc. It’s super help­ful, prac­ti­cal and useful.

    And last, I wanted to thank you for help­ing me evolve as a bet­ter writer. What you’ve taught me has had a pro­found impact on every­thing I write. I’m a grate­ful student.

    Cheers, all the best and THANK YOU.

    .-= Ken Brand´s last blog ..The More You Know, The More Valu­able You Are – Grow Your Knowl­edge, Hone Your Skills, Per­fect Your Pre­sen­ta­tion and Amplify The Shiny Qual­ity Of Your Per­sonal Ser­vices. =-.

  3. Mike Garner on 01.02.2010

    Books by the excel­lent brand writer John Sim­mons always include read­ing lists. Books include any­thing by Dick­ens, Paul Auster and John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. Tightly writ­ten books are always good prac­tice for tightly writ­ten copy.

  4. Marko Saric on 01.02.2010

    I love it! Garbage in and garbage out! Going offline for a bit and pick­ing up a great book is a great way to get inspired, improve your writ­ing and dif­fer­en­ti­ate your­self from the way every­one else writes online.

    Happy new year!
    .-= Marko Saric´s last blog ..36 blog­ging arti­cles you loved the most in 2009 =-.

  5. You Are What You Read - on 01.02.2010

    […] the same could be said about writ­ing. What comes in would also influ­ence what comes out. The bet­ter the things that you read, the bet­ter you’re able to write. Think of it this way: the mate­r­ial you read would ulti­mately influ­ence your ideas, your writing […]

  6. Debbie Ferm on 01.02.2010

    Hi, this is my first time here. I love the site.

    Great advice. I don’t per­son­ally have to make any read­ing goals. I read so much that I have to make goals to get the other things done! Some­times my goal for the day is to NOT read any­thing:) Kind of hard con­sid­er­ing I’m a read­ing teacher.

    GIGO was the first thing I ever learned about com­put­ers way back in the olden days. That and binary code. Oy.

  7. LadyBird on 01.02.2010

    hello and this is my first time here too. :)

    i’ve no spe­cific res­o­lu­tion so far but after bumped into your site, it has changed my mind. now, i think im more focus in my writ­ing after get­ting some tips here. thank you. :)

  8. Ross Mitton on 01.02.2010

    Aw, must I? In my teens I read 3 nov­els and at least 1 text each week.
    I midlife I read a text book each day to pass a degree course.
    Now I read only onscreen, includ­ing Tweets, blogs, and video.

    Yes, I am mak­ing the Scout Sign. I promise this year to read 1 clas­sic, 1 text in my area, and 2 nov­els. Maybe you can turn me around ;-)

  9. Jeff on 01.02.2010

    Thank you all for your very kind (and inter­est­ing) com­ments. Since this post has gained some trac­tion, I thought I’d throw in a few help­ful tools:

    First, there’s Sonnet-A-Day, an e-mail ser­vice that sends one of Shakespeare’s Son­nets to your in box each day.

    Sec­ond, there’s Today In Lit­er­a­ture. You have to pay to gain access to the archives but every day’s arti­cle is free on that day. It’s not lit­er­a­ture, but it’s great moti­va­tion for read­ing more literature.

    And believe it or not, there’s also a twit­ter account that tweets the psalms one verse at a time.

    All good ways to ensure you get a Flin­stones Vitamin’s worth of the good stuff each day.

    - Jeff

  10. Jeff on 01.02.2010


    What­ever you read, I’d say pick stuff you find enjoy­able. No sense in slog­ging through a clas­sic just because… I’m cur­rently read­ing some Steven King short sto­ries and lov­ing them.

    And try read­ing from a writer’s point of view. If you find a par­tic­u­larly mov­ing pas­sage, decon­struct it. Try to fig­ure out what makes it tick.

    Finally, here’s some sci­ence behind the advice, just to give you a lit­tle per­sua­sive encouragement:

    - Jeff

  11. Shane Arthur on 01.02.2010

    I’ve resolved to read dif­fer­ent books each night I got to bed instead of turn­ing on the tele­vi­sion. I can watch tv and go to sleep as I nor­mally do, but I have to crack the book open first. I don’t care if I only read one word, the books come first.

    For me it will be fic­tion and song lyrics. I’ve never been a fan of “Dummy” books but the song­writ­ing for dum­mies blew me away, and still does after sev­eral reads. So, I’ll going to try and con­quer the elu­sive song, and some fic­tion, and some books on per­sua­sion and direct response.

    This is my goal.
    I pre­dict 2010 will be a good year for you Jeff. You seem to be mak­ing friends rather quickly.

    Rock on,
    .-= Shane Arthur´s last blog ..shan­earthur: @soniasimone due to your recent Cre­ative Copy Chal­lenge sub­mis­sion, you are my #ff2009 (fol­low for 2009) ! =-.

  12. Andre White on 01.03.2010

    Although I’m aller­gic to New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions, a symp­tom my HMO doesn’t cover, I felt you made a poignant sug­ges­tion.
    As a pro­gram­mer, I ingest reams of tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion, forum posts and blogs that would reduce the most con­stant lit­er­ary pro­fes­sional to a crayon scrib­bling bib­lio­phobe. Find­ing an actual book to read for plea­sure and enrich­ment is akin to tak­ing a much needed drive though the coun­try and remem­ber­ing that your car can be more than just a means of menial travel to work.
    I’ll cer­tainly attempt to include a bit more ‘Pride and Prej­u­dice’ betwixt my RFC spec­i­fi­ca­tions and ‘How to dis­man­tle an exter­nal USB drive’.
    Iron­i­cally, I was shift­ing some old boxes and found a copy of ‘King Lear’ this morn­ing. Per­haps its a sign.
    .-= Andre White´s last blog ..Top 10 Signs you have a Twit­ter Stalker =-.

  13. Jeff on 01.03.2010


    Thanks for the com­ment and sorry to hear of your pro­fes­sional read­ing load. It’s a chal­lenge for sure. I think the smart move is to take the vit­a­min approach: you know your diet prob­a­bly isn’t as healthy as it could be, but the vit­a­mins help to make up for some of the dif­fer­ence — or at least keep the dam­age to a minimum.

    Heck, I used to keep a copy of Pascal’s Pensee’s in my bath­room. That’s one can’t-miss way to sneak in a bit o’ qual­ity nutri­ents into your read­ing diet ; )

    - Jeff

  14. Lorraine on 01.04.2010

    I love this post.

    If made New Year’s resolutions–I know myself too well to do so–this would be at the top of my list.

    From child­hood I’ve read good lit­er­a­ture avidly–sometimes five solid books a week as a young adult. It’s dis­heart­en­ing to accept that I’ve been on a vir­tual fic­tion fast for years now.

    But your post gives me new impe­tus. I love your list with its sug­ges­tions of man­age­able, reg­u­lar read­ing. Busy as I am, I CAN man­age a chap­ter a day of chal­leng­ing fic­tion, revisit Ten­nessee Williams or Chekov or pick up King James (for beau­ti­ful lan­guage) or New Jerusalem (for great exegesis).

    For an online resource for the psalms and litur­gi­cal read­ings, you might want to check out Universalis.They list morn­ing, evening and night Daily Office read­ings in a handy for­mat.

  15. Jeff on 01.04.2010


    Thanks so much for the link! What a cool ser­vice. And thanks for the com­ment. Read­ing good fiction/literature is some­thing I strug­gle with too, and I find these kind of auto­mated ser­vices and bite-sized por­tions help a lot.

    - Jeff

  16. Copywriters’ Ultimate Game-Changing Productivity Guide: Optimize Your Life in Just 18 Hours a Day | MarketCopywriter Blog on 03.01.2010

    […] Read seri­ous lit­er­a­ture. After nib­bling blo­gospehric fast food, your mind craves sub­stan­tial fare. Feed it with poetry, plays, nov­els and other seri­ous lit­er­a­ture, sug­gests Jeff Sex­ton in one of my favorite posts. […]

  17. Ad Writing Adrenaline — The Daily Blur | Tim Miles, Wizard of Ads | on 03.03.2010

    […] Oh, and P.S. – Good writ­ing gets much eas­ier when you com­mit – really com­mit – to good reading. […]

  18. paul wolfe on 03.20.2011

    Hey Jeff

    Great post — just found you via your lat­est Copy­blog­ger guest post. Dig­ging into the site and dig­ging it.

    The SF Author and Writ­ing Teacher Steven Barnes rec­om­mends that you read between 10 and 50 times the amount that you write daily. Just to keep your ‘well charged.’ It’s some­thing I started doing about a month ago — very inter­est­ing process.

    If you have lots of dri­ving or other dead time in your daily life you can also con­sume this kind of writ­ing via audio. There are some great books avail­able on audio book — both fic­tion and non-fiction.

    My cur­rent favourite audio book is Steven Pressfield’s WAR OF ART — read by Press­field him­self. It’s rocking.

    I’ll be fol­low­ing and read­ing through your posts for a while — really lik­ing what i see. Keep on keep­ing on.


    PS — your ‘Com­mentLuv’ plu­gin needs updating!

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